Focusing Your Ideas

Any “born” writer knows that it’s pretty hard to shut off your brain when practically everything you read, see and hear becomes a possible story idea. The news is packed with them – crimes of every sort – governmental espionage – historical events – major auto accidents – and even (too rarely) GOOD NEWS stories that give you an idea for a sweet, romantic tale.

Then, of course, we are always researching facts for different stories, and if you are like me, as you explore the facts for one idea, you come across other subjects that would also make a good story. I have been “saving” ideas for years. I have file drawers full of ideas – all labeled. I save magazine articles, (in my case, of course, historical magazines like TRUE WEST), I type up notes when a plot “hits” me and I put them into the filed subject matter that fits them – like “women of the west” – “ranching and range wars” – “gold discoveries” – “the transcontinental railroad” – “lawmen” – “outlaws” – “revolutionary war” – “civil war” – “the Alamo” – the list is endless. All my hundreds of research books are underlined and dog-eared and have notes in the corners of some pages that say “story idea.”

My purpose here is helping writers, especially new writers, learn how to focus and decide on your next project. There are times when you will wish you could clone yourself about 5 times, so that you could work on all your great ideas at once and turn out 5 different books a year. (Believe it or not, I did that a couple of times. I used to write no fewer than 3 books a year and one year I wrote 4 and one year 5 – all big 400-500 pages books and while raising two boys and working full time!) Believe me, that can affect your health. It all finally caught up with me and it’s hard for me to sit at the computer for that many hours any more. However, the ideas do keep coming, and my head spins with which book to write next.

A problem brand new writers often have is that they have several story ideas but never get around to sitting down and writing a book because they can’t decide which story they should write. My advice is to pick the idea that haunts you the most – the one that keeps coming to the forefront when you can’t sleep at night because of all the ideas swimming around in your head. What hero or heroine keeps revisiting you? Or what genre/idea jabs at you the most – the one you absolutely love and feel you have to write about before all others? Go with your gut. Which idea says you will never die happy if you don’t get that story onto paper and sell it first?

Of course, some of us are committed to certain books that we have already sold to a publisher. Those books have due dates, and those due dates must be met or the publisher will be upset and might not buy another book from you. I like to keep my foot in the door with publishers, so if I am going to commit a book to them, I try to only push those books I know I truly love and need to write. However, publishers don’t always CARE about what YOU want to write. Sometimes they are simply looking for something else, and if you want to keep selling to them, you try to oblige them. In that case, I go with what they are looking for, but I try to stick to one of the ideas I feel I would enjoy writing, even if it’s not my top pick. I want to do a fifth “Outlaw” book – BADLY. The whole thing is already written “in my head.” However, Sourcebooks wants me to get away from a series for a while and try a single title, which they can more easily do a big push on and bring attention to as a “brand new” book from Rosanne Bittner.

So, I came up with LOGAN’S LADY, which I am writing now. The idea for the book was completely spur of the moment at an RT convention, where I was talking with another writer about Old England – Regencies – Victorian England, etc. Now that is something that doesn’t interest me at all as far as what I like to read (other than some of the Victorian practices that were brought to America by the English, mainly in the bigger eastern cities). But that short conversation led me to a plot involving a “proper” English “Lady” coming to America and ending up needing the help of a western bounty hunter, a man so completely removed from what she would want in a man that the contrast in their cultures would be food for a great story and some humorous moments. I knew I would be meeting with my Sourcebooks publisher that same day and I’d better be ready with a new idea. I presented her with my idea, and SHE LOVED IT!

My first reaction was (gulp!) – now I have to write this book and I have no idea what I’ll do with it. I had no plot, other than that basic idea of a Lady and a bounty hunter. My editor bought it because she intends to push the “Lady comes to America” theme and tie it in with another Sourcebooks author who writes “Cowboy goes to England.” She felt it would go a long way towards building my numbers even higher with distributors, and what writer doesn’t want that? Thus, I am now “focusing” on LOGAN’S LADY and setting all other ideas aside. BUT … those ideas still brew in my head, and sometimes I have to fight them and tell those other characters they will just have to wait their turn. It was hard, because I have written nothing but Jake Harkner’s “Outlaw” books for three years now. I had a very hard time setting Jake aside and telling him to sit there while I get involved with a different hero. 😊 I am now also writing new books for Amazon, so that gives me more freedom to “choose” what book I will write next. I started with CAPTURE MY HEART (a book I simply started for the fun of it because I thought it was time for a Bittner Native American romance). I had no idea what would happen in the story. I just sat down and wrote it. It did so well for Amazon that they wanted a sequel, so I wrote A WARRIOR’S PROMISE. It’s scheduled for March 2018, and Amazon will do a special 30-day “push” on the book, including e-mail “blasts.” Again, I had to set other ideas aside simply because, career-wise, I thought I should mix it up a little and get away from the outlaw/lawman idea. Trouble is, as soon as LOGAN’S LADY is finished for Sourcebooks, I will again be in that situation of deciding which “haunting” book I should write next. “Outlaw” #5? Plus a sixth “Outlaw” book that involves Jake’s grown-up grandson? The contemporary Native American romance that has haunted me for 25 years? (I haven’t written that one because I am intimidated by contemporary stories, (I’ve never written one except for a short story years ago). And this story has so much in it that I’m not sure where to “place” it. Big women’s fiction? Contemporary romance? Contemporary suspense? Inspirational? Native American romance? It would fit any of those categories.

Other ideas I have involve my World War II story (already written but not truly ready yet for publication) – more on the Mexican War – a return to another book about the French & Indian Wars (think LAST OF THE MOHICANS, something I covered in my “Wilderness” books but want to write more about) – another book involving the Civil War, most likely about the aftermath of that war? –My brain absolutely will not stop spinning with new ideas.

So, it’s a matter of FOCUS. I never want to work on a book someone else “tells”me to write, but I had to for the Sourcebooks Christmas anthology, CHRISTMAS IN A COWBOY’S ARMS. So, how did I write that short story they’d requested? I merely added to my fourth “Outlaw” book, THE LAST OUTLAW, and took Jake and his family into the Christmas that came right after that fourth book ended. I dreamed up something sweet for Christmas – a story involving Jake and one of his little granddaughters, spinning it around the concept of how much Jake had changed over the years. Thus, even though I “had” to write the story, I made it about characters I already loved, so that it wouldn’t feel like hard work or something I had to force out of me.With any project, consider what’s in your heart first, then consider your career and which idea might benefit you the most as far as sales and what publishers are looking for. My publisher wanted a Christmas story, so I gave them one. With each book you simply set all your other ideas aside. File them away in your brain (and sometimes on paper) and focus on the one book that fills the bill all the way around, yet is a book you know you will ENJOY writing. If you don’t enjoy it and can’t fall in love with the characters, the book will be pure “work.” You don’t want that. Writing should NEVER feel like work. It should be liberating and fun and enjoyable. You should love your characters and your idea so much that you can’t wait to get back to your writing!

I have been “in love” with Jake Harkner since I first I wrote about him in OUTLAW HEARTS back in 1993. It took me 20 years to sell the second book (DO NOT FORSAKE ME) but that book was in my head all those 20 years, and although it was over 500 pages long, it poured out of me in about six weeks!! That’s because I’d filed it away while working on many, many other books in between. And I’ve recently learned that DO NOT FORSAKE ME has been reprinted! And so was CHRISTMAS IN A COWBOY’S ARMS, which included the short story I didn’t want to write! Good news! So now, I guess I can manage to set Jake aside again while I work on other stories – but he’s always there, waiting for me to bring him to life again. Right now I’ve managed to give my heart to my bounty hunter, Logan Best, in LOGAN’S LADY. Sometimes I feel like a harlot for having so many different lovers!!

If you manage to focus on one story at a time and get it written, you will be able to finish a lot more books than if you sit around trying to decide which story to write and never start (or finish) any of them. Writing takes a lot of discipline, but it’s all easier when you are writing what you love and enjoying every minute of it!


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